Wearable tech is heating up and now scientists hope to empower smokers with personalized data and a necklace designed to kick a deadly habit.

Inside the habits lab at Northwestern Medicine, scientists mimic smoking while pondering a burning question:  What causes someone to successfully quit smoking?

The answer, they believe, is data-driven by tracking real-life actions, not self-reported usage.

Nabil Alshurafa, Ph.D. is a Northwestern Medicine Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine and Computer Science.

“We can tell how long the person placed the cigarette at the mouth,” Alshurafa said. “Things like our body, the cigarette, the lighter — all these things emit heat.”

The Smokemon device is worn around the neck and sensors inside the device measure the thermal activity to determine the number of puffs, their duration and the time between each drag on the cigarette.

“All these things could potentially allow us to characterize that smoking behavior in a lot more fine detail,” Alshurafa said.

That could mean an even deeper understanding of tobacco exposure and disease. At the same time, the mechanics allow users to navigate their smoking topography — in other words, what causes them to light up, particularly those who relapse. 

“It could be that cup of coffee that triggered you to relapse. It could be that friend you hang out with,” Alshurafa said.  “So we can begin to educate people a little bit more about what are these triggers that get them to slip.”

The next step is to partner with smoking cessation programs and use the thermal data to trigger a timely intervention. 

“Psychologists have designed different mindfulness interventions or ways of intervening through text messages or videos to get them to prevent the relapse or that next puff or that next cigarette they might actually take,” Alshurafa said.

More information at https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3569460

The Smokemon developers hope to tweak the tech so e-cigarette users can benefit, as well. And they plan to refine the design, so it looks more like a piece of jewelry.